Bernard Levin, gifted, influential, infuriating, succumbs to Alzheimer's disease, aged 75

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The Independent Online

Bernard Levin, one of the best-known and most provocative journalists of his day, has died at the age of 75. The polemical writer and broadcaster, who contributed a regular column for The Times for 26 years, died on Saturday, following a battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Bernard Levin, one of the best-known and most provocative journalists of his day, has died at the age of 75. The polemical writer and broadcaster, who contributed a regular column for The Times for 26 years, died on Saturday, following a battle with Alzheimer's disease.

During a career that spanned half a century, Levin wrote prolifically on everything from Vietnam to Wagner. Levin's first foray into journalism was in the magazine Truth, where he wrote about his disenchantment with the Labour Party. He went on to make his name writing an irreverent parliamentary sketch column for The Spectator in the 1950s, under the byline "Taper".

When his fellow scribe Auberon Waugh was sacked from The Spectator in 1970 and sued for wrongful dismissal, Levin - who had long since left the magazine - testified on his behalf and helped him to win damages of £600. From The Spectator, Levin turned his journalistic talents to theatre criticism, writing for the Daily Express and then the Daily Mail. While at the Mail he famously wrote: "Ask a man which way he is going to vote and he will probably tell you. Ask him, however, why, and vagueness is all."

In the 1960s, Levin broke into broadcasting and became a well-known face and voice on television and radio. He was a regular on That Was The Week That Was, the satirical show hosted by David Frost, where his abrasive interview style often landed him in hot water. During one episode of the Saturday night news show, Desmond Leslie, the husband of the actress Agnes Bernelle, whom Levin had savaged in a review the previous week, took his revenge by punching the journalist in front of a live audience of 11 million viewers.

In 1971, he joined The Times as a columnist, and remained there until 1997 when he was forced to relinquish his regular slot because of ill-health, although he continued to contribute to the newspaper until the following year.

The Times described its new acquisition as "savage, clever, cunning, witty and brilliant," while Levin himself declared that he was looking forward to writing "against the grain" of the paper. William Rees-Mogg was editor at the time and the two men enjoyed a close professional relationship - Levin's desk was in the editor's outer office.

The present editor of The Times, Robert Thomson, said: "Bernard Levin was one of the most gifted and influential columnists to write for The Times. The beauty of his language and the originality of his thought ensured that he had an enthusiastic audience far beyond the borders of Britain."

Levin was never afraid to deflate pomposity and champion the underdog, although he was also lampooned for his verbose writing style. "He writes with Dickensian exuberance, deploying his rich vocabulary in sentences of prodigious length, with digressions and parentheses galore," said one commentator.

His willingness to challenge authority was displayed when he penned an excoriating article about Lord Chief Justice Goddard following his death at the age of 94 and was blackballed from the Garrick Club.

Levin was born in August 1928 and raised by his grandparents after his father, a north London tailor, left his mother when he was three years old.

He was educated at Christ's Hospital, to which he won a scholarship when he was 11, and the London School of Economics, where he studied government. In the early 1970s, he enjoyed a five-year relationship with Arianna Stassinopoulos, who went on to become the US republican politician Arianna Huffington.

Levin published several books, including The Way We Live Now, Taking Sides, Speaking Up and The Pendulum Years: Britain and the Sixties, a critical portrait of 1960s Britain. He also wrote travel books including Hannibal's Footsteps, To The Ends of the Rhine and A Walk Up Fifth Avenue, all of which became the subjects of Channel 4 television series.

He was a staunch advocate of book indexing, giving his name to a Society of Indexers award for other authors who supported indexers.

Levin remained modest about his own abilities. "I am a journalist because I have no other talent for any other job. I am not exaggerating. I couldn't teach, I couldn't paint, I couldn't compose, I couldn't be a businessman. The only possible exception was the Bar. Otherwise I am totally useless," he said.

Levin, who never married and had no children, is survived by his long-term partner Liz Anderson.

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